Although the earthquake dominated our agenda at the Embassy for much of the past six weeks, there was a wide variety of other activity on deck as well. We had several high-level visitors. There were the usual demarches and diplomatic notes to deliver. There was extensive business travel from the Bay of Islands in the North to Christchurch in the South, stopping at quite a few spots in between for civic, cultural, scientific, educational, and sporting events.
Closer to home, there were also several official dinners and receptions at the Residence during the same time period. We did not use the Residence much for business during my first year because the facility was in some disrepair. I still have a couple of rooms to paint and a few native trees to replant, but rotten floorboards and a few other show-stoppers have been taken care of. So we’re good to go.
One of the first events in which we participated upon my return from Washington in February was AmeriCARna. AmeriCARna is a celebration of classic American cars and related cultural phenomena, including 1950s and 1960s American rock-and-roll music. Held each year on both the North and South Islands, AmeriCARna involves a street cruise with hundreds of classic cars, a large festival, live music, games for the kids, plenty of food, and shopping stalls.
I heard about the event too late to attend last year. This year I planned my calendar around it, particularly because the North Island celebration was organized in Lower Hutt, our hometown. We donated a large number of American flags and held an opening reception on our front lawn. Dr McWaine rode in the cruise around Petone in a Candy Apple Red ’76 Cadillac El Dorado Cabriolet, and we spent Saturday enjoying the street festival in Hutt City center. A great weekend was capped with a party at the Petone Working Men’s Club, featuring performances by the Beat Girls.
A couple weeks later we invited all of New Zealand’s former Ambassadors to the US and their spouses to tea at the Residence. Three of the Ambassadors — spanning the period from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton — were able to come. We spent a marvelous afternoon sharing war stories, DC remembrances, and tips of the trade.
I was deeply saddened to hear earlier this week that Ambassador Denis McLean, with whom I talked at length at the tea, just passed away. Posted in Washington from 1991-1994, Ambassador McLean was a staunch advocate of the US-NZ bilateral relationship. His career spanned many decades and many posts, and he served his country with great distinction. He will be sorely missed.
In a good example of the diversity of my usual day, just an hour or so after the Ambassadors’ tea ended Dr McWaine and I welcomed to the Residence another group of friends – 50 LGBT folks who were in town for the AsiaPacific OutGames.
More than 1,500 visitors came to Wellington for the athletic, cultural, and community events comprising the Games. So that they would not get lost in the crowd of Kiwi and Aussie participants, we invited the folks from North America, South America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands over to the house for drinks and food. Wine was poured. Speeches were made. Tears were shed. Photos were taken. Nibbles were nibbled. New friendships were formed. Jokes were told. Just a regular evening at home on the ranch.
The next morning I was honored to chair a panel at the OutGames human rights conference on the status of LGBT equality in the AsiaPacific region. A robustly engaged audience of about 300 community leaders from around the world attended.
The other panelists were three extraordinary trailblazers: Annette Xiberras (an elder of the Wurundjeri people and co-chair of the Victoria (Australia) Traditional Owners Land Justice Group), Vaito’a Toelupe (senior officer of the Disaster Management Office of the Independent State of Samoa), and Geetanjali Misra (co-founder of SAKHI, an NGO committed to ending violence against women of South Asian origin, as well as co-founder and executive director of CREA, an international feminist human rights organization).
One of the most relaxing events in March was a picnic that Dr McWaine and I held at the Residence for our Embassy officers, staff, and their families. We barbequed up vast quantities of hamburgers, hotdogs, and paua fritters … uncorked some of our favorite California wines … mixed up a bathtub full of sangria … iced the Coronas … and settled in to enjoy the nice, sunny day.
The event wasn’t all leisure, though. We set up the volleyball net that we had brought from California, and ad hoc teams played throughout the afternoon. Other folks played croquet, football, frisbee, or chess … or just talked trash from the sidelines. Yes, I said chess. There’s nothing like a vigorous game of outdoor chess for exercise after a good feed.
Just last week we had a group of about 30 Victoria Wellington University students over to the house for drinks. Several of the students have been members of my American Ambassador Advisers group since I held the first get-together during my inaugural fortnight in New Zealand. The others were newbie advisers. It was a dynamic, invigorating evening … although there was bit of sadness because our good friend Mahina is leaving to go exploring overseas now that she has graduated.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any stories or photos to share from the various political and cultural dinners convened in our dining room, since that part of the house is subject to Vegas Rules. What happens there, stays there.
All I can say is that glasses were raised … arguments were served … counter-arguments were lobbed … jokes were told … food was consumed … tears were shed … blessings were counted … friendships were formed or deepened … and everyone got back home safely. Can’t ask for more than that.
I hope to see you at the house sometime soon.